Written by Mary Ellen,
The cover of Saturday’s New York Times noted the passing of James Q. Wilson, a man whose name may not evoke an immediate reaction but whose work is the cornerstone on which West End Beautification Association (www.westendbeautification.org
Mr. Wilson was a social scientist and Harvard researcher on the behavior of police officers and lawbreakers. He developed the strategy that formed the “quality of life” program that was used by Mayor Rudolf Giuliani and Police Commissioner Stratton in New York City. Wilson was also one of the authors of the “broken window” theory. The theory “proceeds from the presumption, supported by research, that residents’ perception of the neighborhood is based not on whether there is actually a high rate of crime, but on whether the neighborhood appears to be well-tended –that is, whether its residents hold it in mutual regard, uphold the locally accepted obligations of civility and outwardly disdain the flouting of these obligations”.
Real estate agents listen up: It is not the crime statistics that tell the story of a neighborhood, it is a visitor’s perception of how the place looks.
Using a broken window as a metaphor, Mr. Wilson concluded that a broken window, left unrepaired shows that no one cares so when the next person breaks the next window it seems a bit less terrible because the level of neglect has already been established. It becomes easier and easier to continue into criminality and blight because each successive transgression, while seemingly harmless in and off itself becomes a growing pattern of neglect for which no one feels responsible but for which everyone is responsible. The theory asserts that the solution lies in being intolerant of the “smallest illegalities” If arresting a single drunk on West Beech Street, fining a dog walker who doesn’t scoop the poop or every store owner who ignores sanitation codes seems harsh, failure to do anything about the mounting number of people who continue to flaunt the laws can destroy an entire community.
When WEBA filed for incorporation last Fall, our mission statement was to “improve the aesthetic quality of life in the West End community of Long Beach, NY” But since turning around a community takes a concerted effort by residents, businesses and the City, we began with simply planting flowers so that the neighborhood “appears to be well-tended” and shows that someone cares. But, as a recent Vice Presidential candidate once colorfully noted, “you can put lipstick on a pig but it is still a pig”
Please join us in our efforts to bring back a Code Enforcement Officer to the West End. Add your voice to the group of West End residents who brought their quality of life concerns to City Manager Jack Schnirman and the City Council at the Long Beach Listens meeting
Meanwhile, WEBA will honor the memory of James Q. Wilson by continuing our efforts to make the West End the best it can be.